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The Sisyphean Struggle to Protect Voting Rights

Not surprisingly, but disappointingly even so, Krysten Sinema yesterday said that she is opposed to any change in the filibuster rules, needed to pass any meaningful voting rights bills. She said something about the filibuster being important to protect against radical changes to our laws. She then said that she thinks there should be a discussion of voting rights.

This is of course a pretense. Sinema is either bought by rich Republican interests, or she is abysmally ignorant as to what has been going on in the country. And there always is the, “or both of those,” though either one is sufficient for her to do what the right-wing wants. Maybe this is too much of a stereotype, but she reminds me of someone running a sorority in college, who finds a variety of made-up reasons to tell certain people why they can’t admit them in. Just smooth excuses whose only goal is to deflect criticism, and with no intention of changing anything.

So it is virtually no use to even respond to anything she says, because it is not meant as any intellectual or political position with which one could argue, or try to convince her otherwise. If it were, one might point out that the filibuster has never protected against any legislation coming from the Right. And that if the Republicans were to take over the Congress and the presidency, they would immediately get rid of the filibuster, because they are all about the exercise of brute power. “Protection of the filibuster” thus only benefits the Far Right.

And another thing that she doesn’t grasp, or simply pretends not to, is that the pernicious legislation by Republicans comes from the state legislatures which they control, not from Congress. Democrats pass, or try to pass, federal legislation. Republicans do not believe in that, but their states pass bills which would never get through Congress, but then are signed by their governors, and allowed to stand by the packed Supreme Court. It is stealthier, and they get everything they want.

So Sinema’s and Manchin’s concern about how overriding the filibuster for bills which protect crucial rights like the right to vote, will threaten protection against radical legislation in the future, is nonsense. The radical legislation is being passed every day, in the states. That is the Republicans’ goal as to how the country should work. And it is passed with simple majorities, there are no filibuster rules in states. So 51% of a state legislature is all that is required to pass a horrible bill, but 60% of the United States Senate is required to override it–because otherwise we would risk having a radical force which could pass bad laws? Why doesn’t anyone confront Sinema with this? Well, it would be purposeless, because she simply has the place she wants to get to, and the actual facts are irrelevant to her.

Without any carve-out of the filibuster, no voting rights legislation can ever be passed, unless Democrats impossibly had 62 Senate seats; 60 real Democrats who would vote for cloture, and then Sinema and Manchin. Thus it seems inevitable that all the gerrymandering and voter suppression bills which Republicans are passing, will stand. And even Sinema knows that.

So she is now very apparently simply owned by the Republicans, even though she sometimes votes for Democratic bills. She seems to be willing to vote for the Build Back Better, but she has Manchin to cover her there, as he continues to come up with a range of objections to parts of the bill, so many that it looks as if President Biden and Majority Leader Schumer are going to put off this bill for a few months at least.

It is infuriating, because a vast majority of Americans are for the BBB, and most leading economists see it as a valuable bill, which would help to reduce inflation. But Manchin has problems with it. He did not seem to care much when Republicans passed a two trillion dollar tax cut for billionaires in 2017 which did absolutely nothing to help anyone but them. BBB will help many people, but Manchin worries about how we will pay for it, or something like that.

I am inclined to think that unlike Sinema, who is unyielding, Manchin actually is somewhat open to being convinced, but that may well be just a difference in demeanor, not meaning anything at all. Right-wing organizations are pouring ads into West Virginia, praising Manchin for not giving in to Democrats. So he may have no intention of ever voting for the bill. After all, they have been discussing it for months, and he just comes up with new “concerns” and objections.

It “seems” as if Manchin might vote for a filibuster carve-out, but Sinema wants to let everyone know (her right-wing backers?), that she will never do so. So how can a voting rights bill be passed? It can’t, because no matter what form of voting rights legislation is proposed, Republicans will not vote for it. Actually, someone like Murkowski might possibly, but she won’t change the filibuster rules, so it is academic. The filibuster has protected the Republican Party for decades.

So now we will of course hear more criticism of “Biden and the Democrats” for “not doing something to protect voting rights.” But what can he and they do? Exert pressure on Sinema? What would that be? She’s got a seven-figure lobbying job awaiting her if she leaves the Senate, and she’s got all of her wealthy backers whom she meets with every month. She is a fake Democrat who started out with the Green Party, but has no real ideological base anywhere, she does what gets her publicity and donations.

Manchin is a rare West Virginia Democrat, and he is not going to burn his bridges in that state and its wealthy donors. And Sinema and Manchin essentially backstop each other. And one can’t reasonably blame “the Democratic Party” for them. We could blame Democrats for not winning more Senate seats in 2020, but they were rather fortunate to attain their three gained seats in that election. We could possibly gain one or two more in 2022, but it would be too late to protect the gerrymandered House Democrats, or the state legislatures.

One Republican strategy in all political areas is to run out the clock. Act like you want to do something, but need some changes; then force delays, then it is too late, because you have to be out campaigning. And that is what they are doing here, with the important help of Sinema and Manchin. it is like those spy stories where the bad guys always have made sure to buy off someone in the good guys’ camp, just enough to thwart them. That is classic strategy,, and the self-absorbed and protean Sinema is the perfect tool for it. Manchin was not their doing, he is just an anomaly, a Democrat of sorts in a very Red state.

I remember all the trouble we had with Democrats like Nunn and Boren and Bob Kerrey, but we barelly managed to get enough votes to pass things like Clinton’s key first budget, and then later the ACA. But here it looks like we are not going to get to 50+1, which we need.

So what can we do? I don’t think that either Sinema or Manchin can be “arm-twisted,” even if we still did that. We can’t win over any Republicans to vote to override the filibuster rules. It looks like Republicans have successfully blocked the board, which is always their goal.

I wish that I could think of a clever idea. Republicans’ main goal is to get to the midterms with all their vote suppression and gerrymandering in place. A decent Supreme Court would throw out the gerrymandering,, but this one is full of political hacks. Democrats should do their own gerrymandering, but they mostly do not, which is a real problem.

As we know, Republicans are a bloc, they virtually always vote the same way, and think the same way. Democrats are more diverse, which can be a strength, but against such a monolithic foe, is damaging Turn on the news shows, and there are all these non-officeholding Democrats, many of them Black, who understandably are angry at “the Democrats” for not doing something to protect their voting rights, even though they really have no specific suggestions as to how they can do that.

Some of them threaten that “if Biden and Democrats do not fix this, many voters will ‘shut down,’ not vote, not help, as they feel they are betrayed.” It is sincere and impassioned rhetoric, but not helpful, mostly because they don’t seem to perceive that there is no way to get Sinema to support an override of the filibuster. Republicans would love to discourage some percentage of the minority vote for Democrats, when the reality is that the only way to get out of this situation is to vote in immense numbers.

I just wish that more people understood the political realities here, rather than conveniently blaming Biden or “the Democrats” for it. We should have not lost all those state legislatures in 2010 and 2014, and we wouldn’t be in this situation now. And Republicans, infuriated that they lost the 2020 elections, and realizing that the right to vote will doom their authoritarian minority, have decided to wage an all-out assault on that right. Elections do have consequences, and that relates to those of a decade ago, as well, particularly when they entrenched a Right-wing majority in the legislatures of most states.

Fixing that will take years. We have fixed some of it, at least as to governors, but Republicans never stop trying to get rid of them. What is the saying, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance”? It is true about elections. Only show up when someone you really like is on the ballot, and the bad people will win all the elections where you are too disinterested or angry to show up. Think that your element of the Party is the most powerful, because if it doesn’t vote, it destroys the party in general, but what kind of power is that? It is in reality like the power to have your forces be destroyed in a war, because you didn’t feel inspired by the generals, and feeling self-righteous about it. And this is a war we are in now, not a comfortable rest period.

“Divide and conquer” is a well known military strategy, and Republicans are adept at using it. 2016 was the most appalling example of that; so many Democrats not being enthused enough; or hoping for a Sanders win in 2020; or deciding to cast a “conscience vote” for a whacko third party candidate; or just not voting at all, sitting it out. And we see what that caused. Do it again, and we all lose, or “hang separately,” as Benjamin Franklin put it.

It is not really an irony or a paradox, that the only way out of the voting rights situation, is to vote in numbers never seen before. It is like a listing boat which can only be saved by everybody pulling to keep it mostly upright, until it can get to shore. Not a prospect which inspires enthusiasm, but it is far better than just giving up, or carping at the Democratic Party in general, until it sinks.

Unless we think that we can start a brand-new party which can actually win a presidential election, something which I think is a fantasy. And giving up has never been a viable option. But there are people with some access to microphones who do not seem interested in how to change the political landscape, they are more invested in being angry and acting like the Democratic Party betrayed them. I will agree that the so-called leaders of the party have made many mistakes as to tactics, not wanting to believe the true depths of evil of Republicans; and specifically by aligning against the primary candidate in 2008 who was far more interested in, and supportive of, the Democratic Party. But our choices now seem to be to either say, “Yes, terrible mistakes were made, and they doomed us,” or trying everything we can to somehow fix this.

In poker, they like to say, “All you need is a chip and a chair,” meaning that, as unlikely as it may seem, if you are still in the game, and have at least one chip left, you still have a chance. And we are certainly not down to our last chip, so let’s try everything we can to figure out a way to use the chips we do have, even though our opponent is daily trying to find new ways to stack the game.

One Response

  1. “Sinema is either bought by rich Republican interests…”

    I think this is more properly “Sinema is bought by the same rich interests who have bought the Republicans…”

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